Cognitive-Affective Processes and Academic Conscientiousness
Embargoed until: 2019-05-28
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There has been an increasing interest in understanding the personality processes that interact with the environment and lead to trait-manifesting behaviour. Researchers have noted that combining trait and cognitive-affective-motivational approaches to personality can lead to a greater understanding of trait expressions, the identification of moderators of trait expressions, and the development of new interventions to change personality and individual differences (Baumert & Schmitt, 2012). However, thus far, the research has primarily focused on the traits of neuroticism, extraversion, and agreeableness, and have not included the trait of conscientiousness. This is despite the known relationship between conscientiousness and important outcomes, such as academic performance. Alongside this limitation to previous research, attempts to link cognitive-affective processes to other personality traits, that are presumed to have substantial affective components, such as extraversion and neuroticism, have been mixed. These mixed results may be partly due to methodological limitations, such as the use of broadly valenced stimuli that do not necessarily have specific personal relevance to the participants in the study. Consequently, the research reported in this thesis focused upon the question, “How are personality traits, and conscientiousness in particular, related to cognitive-affective processes for relevant stimuli?” It was expected that the results of the studies in the thesis would further the understanding of the affective core of conscientiousness, and provide insight into the relationship between traits and how associated cognitive-affective processes interact with the environment to lead to trait-manifesting behaviour. In line with this question and expectations, the current research had four purposes: Firstly, to see whether conscientiousness was associated with cognitive-affective processes for academic-related stimuli, in the categories of academic-approach, academic-avoidance, performance-evaluative, and academic-neutral, among samples of university students. Secondly, to see whether extraversion and neuroticism were associated with the cognitive-affective processes of these academic-relevant stimuli, which would have personal relevance/significance to the student participants in the studies. Thirdly, to see whether the situational context (week-of-semester in which the study was conducted) moderated the relationships between traits and cognitive affective processes. Finally, to see whether cognitive-affective processes were related to intention to commit academic-conscientious behaviour in the coming week. These main aims were investigated across three studies and three different cognitive-affective processes: chronic accessibility, attentional bias, and appraisals. Study 1 investigated chronic accessibility (how accessible and readily activated a concept is) using a lexical decision task with 85 undergraduate students. The results indicated that conscientiousness was positively associated with chronic accessibility of academic-neutral words. Furthermore, extraversion was positively and neuroticism was negatively associated with chronic accessibility of academic-approach words. Week-of-semester in which the study was conducted moderated the relationship between neuroticism and chronic accessibility of academic-avoidance stimuli, although the simple slopes were not significant. Study 2 investigated attentional bias (the preferential attention of one category of stimuli over another) in 120 undergraduate students, using the dot-probe task across two stimulus durations: 100ms, which should capture relatively automatic attentional processing; and 500ms, which should capture more controlled attentional processing. The results indicated that conscientiousness was positively associated with attentional bias for performance-evaluative stimuli at both 100ms and 500ms. Additionally, intention to commit academic-conscientiousness behaviours (e.g., “Show up for a class more than 5 minutes early”) in the next week was associated with attentional bias for performance-evaluative stimuli at 100ms. Neuroticism was positively associated with attentional bias for academic-avoidance stimuli at both 100ms and 500ms. The relationship between neuroticism and attentional bias for academic-avoidance stimuli at 100ms was moderated by week-of-semester, in that the relationship was only significant later in the semester. Study 3 investigated the relationship between traits and the appraisal (the cognitive categorisation of stimuli) of pleasantness and relevance/significance of stimuli in 120 undergraduate students. Conscientiousness had a medium to strong relationship with both appraisal types (i.e., pleasantness- and relevance/significance-appraisals) across all stimulus categories, except for pleasantness-appraisals of academic-avoidance stimuli. Overall, stimulus-appraisals accounted for 35% of the variance in conscientiousness, and 43% of the variance in achievement striving. Pleasantness-appraisals of academic-neutral stimuli mediated the relationship between conscientiousness and intentions to commit conscientious academic behaviours in the next week. Neuroticism was associated with the relevance/significance, but not pleasantness, appraisals of academic-avoidance stimuli, and extraversion was associated with the pleasantness, but not relevance/significance, appraisals of academic-approach stimuli. The results of these studies have important implications for understanding personality and cognitive-affective processes. Firstly, the results of these studies indicate that conscientiousness is associated with the cognitive-affective processing of trait-relevant/significant stimuli. This calls into question the assumption that conscientiousness is a trait which primarily reflects self-regulation, and is unrelated to the affective processing of stimuli. Secondly, the finding that relevance/significance appraisals are important in explaining the relationships between traits and the stimuli indicates that future research may benefit from explicitly considering stimuli relevance/significance when designing cognitive-affective research. Investigations of stimuli relevance/significance may be more useful than broader stimuli-valence when seeking to investigate the affective core of traits. Thirdly, the finding that week-of-semester moderated the relationship between neuroticism and cognitive-affective processes provides initial evidence that naturally occurring situational contexts moderate the relationship between Big Five traits and cognitive-affective processes. Finally, it is expected that this research may have practical implications for a new generation of game-based personality assessments, which measure personality traits through cognitive or cognitive-affective tasks.
Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy in Organisational Psychology (PhD OrgPsych)
School of Applied Psychology
The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.